China Girds for Ban on Smoking in Indoor Public Places

Starting Sunday, the Chinese government will take on a huge challenge — imposing a smoking ban in all indoor public venues in a country with 350 million smokers and a deep-rooted tobacco culture.

The ban, which was announced by the Ministry of Health in March, applies to bars, restaurants and hotels, but not to workplaces. Authorities are touting it as a major step toward reducing smoking in the world’s most tobacco-addicted country, but they have not specified penalties for violations or how the law will be enforced.

“I don’t think this policy will make much difference,” one smoker in Shanghai told BBC News. “Particularly in the smaller cities in the countryside, where smoking is more part of the culture.”

China ratified the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in 2003, pledging measures to curb tobacco use. But according to a recent report by an international panel of experts, the tobacco industry has been successful in sabotaging anti-smoking efforts. The report predicted that deaths from cigarette smoking in China will triple in the next two decades, killing some 3.5 million people annually by 2030.

Under the new ban, cigarette vending machines will be prohibited in public areas in China and business owners will be required to post conspicuous no-smoking signs. The Health Ministry’s goal is to have no smoke and no smoking-related advertising in any public area by 2020. “I don’t know about the ban,” a longtime smoker told the Xinhau news agency. “I’m very addicted to the habit.”

Forbes’ China Tracker blog also is skeptical. “In the lead-up to the Olympics in 2008, Beijing announced a similar smoking ban — and everyone completely ignored it,” blogger Patrick Chovanec wrote. Chinese authorities, he added, “seem to regard smoking as one of life’s little pleasures that it’s best not to mess with.”

Yang Gonghuan, deputy director of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said that raising public awareness of the dangers of smoking is the key to success. “Without a successful mass campaign, tobacco control is doomed to fail,” she said.

A 2010 survey co-authored by the Chinese CDC found that less than a quarter of the Chinese population believes smoking causes disease like lung cancer, and fewer than one-sixth of the country’s smokers plan to kick the habit.

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